St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

3 minute Food-for-Thought

July 2015

 

To bee or not to bee

 

 

It must be quite rare for a fifteen-year-old teenager to be interested in honeybees. I am sure that it is even more exceptional that this interest perseveres well over fifty years. But there are people like that …

 

Summer is the season that recalls the biblical image of a perfect land, fertile with ‘honey dripping from its hives’.

 

Bees are the smallest of the “domestic animals” and beekeeping is one of the oldest agricultural occupations in the world. Moreover, for a very long time, honey was the only abundant source of sweetness. Wax, on the other hand, was the first plastic material used by humans. These must be some of the reasons why man has always been fascinated by bees and often had an anthropomorphic interest in their organisation and social behaviour.

 

As we ascend in time of civilisation, bees were very much actors in the human imagination. This is mostly because of men’s preoccupation of being guided by superior beings, gods or God. Ancient India was the first civilisation where it was a predominant belief that the physical was secondary to the spiritual world of gods. In an ancient Indian philosophical text it is written that the sun that shines above is the honey of gods, the sky is the beehive and the air is the honeycomb.

 

Egypt also had a cult of the bees. The bee hieroglyph is always present in temples and other sacred monuments. In Greek mythology Zeus, the father of all gods, was born in a sacred cave where bees lived and thus bees have received a share of divine intelligence.


 

For the Hebrews the Promised Land was “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey”. The land of Canaan is called “a land flowing with milk and honey,” because it represents heaven, a place of faith, love, truth, pleasantness and enjoyment. Honey and sweetness are common significances used in the Scriptures; divine decision is considered as sweet as honey: “the judgments of Jehovah are sweeter than honey.”

 

The Scriptures remind us also about how much honey should be eaten: “To eat too much honey is not good.” In addition, the proper style and content of a conversation with our neighbour is prescribed in the following way: “Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and healthful to the body.” For the Hebrews, honey is a privileged expression of love and affection:

 

“Your lips drip honey, my bride.” Mark in his Gospel describes that John the Baptist “fed on locusts and wild honey.”

 

There are many Christian legends about the bees. A Bavarian folklore narrates that the bees are the same on earth as in heaven and they continue to produce the wax that is used in the liturgical candles.

 

For mystical reasons, it is prescribed that the candles used at Mass and at other liturgical functions be made of pure beeswax. The pure wax symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His Mother, the wick signifies the Soul of Christ, and the flame represents His divinity. Although the two latter properties are found in all kinds of candles, the first is proper of beeswax candles only.

 

The next time we light a beeswax candle or go to church and look at the candles on the altar, let’s think about what they represent. They originate from nature’s mysterious honeybees and symbolize the Lord’s body, soul and divinity.

 

Prepared by Laszlo DeRoth, Lecturer, Knights of Columbus Council 1970